The “Fifty Shades” Universal Trailer

Get ready. Uh, brace yourself. Variety:

On Thursday morning, Universal Studios debuted its first trailer for “Fifty Shades of Grey,” the highly anticipated film based on the erotic novels by E.L. James.

The movie stars Jamie Dornan (who appears san [sic] shirt) as Christian Grey and Dakota Johnson as his inexperienced lover Anastasia Steele….

We don’t know yet if the film will be “decent.” (If that’s the right word?) But the quality of the book and its film adaptation are not really the concern here; those are for others to argue about. I’ve not read the book and have no plans to see the film.

I will say this, though. While you might dream a novel you write will one day find itself a film, if it were to do so that film’s actual quality is mostly out of your control. I suppose the bottom line is if you found yourself paid (especially if you were paid “big”) for film rights, I suspect as a writer you would be thrilled to take the money and run. ;-)

But, privately (between just us here…. and the internet), I’d hate to see my book(s) theatrically ruined.

Have a good day, wherever you are reading this….

Some Literary Profundity….

….courtesy of Twitter:

@AdviceToWriters: Writing fiction is the act of weaving a series of lies to arrive at a greater truth.

KHALED HOSSEINI

Hmm. Is it? Do “lies” ever actually reveal “truth”?

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I see it rather more this way: If your fiction is the act of weaving a series of untruths, it’s ultimately a lie.

But that’s just my personal take, of course. ;-)

Splits-ville?

The parents are now returned to Pennsylvania. I’m pretty sure they still have no clue what I’ve been up to. I know this because, if they did, they’d question me. (Believe me, restraint is not my mother’s strong suit.) Ah, the “fun” of writing under a “pen name.;-)

So, house guests gone, calm returns to the Catskills. And I can work again. After taking the sequel and cutting it in half, that idea I’d had of releasing the first half of it sometime in the summer is looking possible.

I had always planned the first sequel to be the same 5×8 size and font as Passports. So my dividing job yesterday revealed the book so far is 35,000 words in its first half, which is about 140 pages of text based on the Passports format. However, it is only 15,000 so far in its latter half.

Perfect. So this split may well work.

And now, we dance!:

Have a good Wednesday! :-)

“As a reader, which do you prefer?”

I had a light bulb go on over my head first thing this morning. And, no, it wasn’t because I’d turned a lamp on that happened to be behind me. ;-) Rather, an idea hit me about the in-progress sequel: Should it be two volumes?

Passports is nearly 400 pages and a complete novel. Unexpectedly, while I had been sitting at my desk doing some writing, and also thinking on the title for the sequel (and I think I’ve got one at last!), it dawned on me that having had that full 400 pages as a series opener allows me the flexibility to do what I want afterwards. I don’t need to do the same format yet again…. exactly the same way.

Meaning another “400 page” effort all at once is hardly required. Currently, I have around half of the sequel finished. But I am months away from completing it, and it might not appear before early 2015.

That strikes me as just too far away. However, I could instead release the first half of it during the summer. I have much more written of the first half than of the second, which makes this even more appealing an idea. If I concentrated from here on only on that first half, finishing that within weeks is not out of the question.

As a reader, which do you prefer? A longer, single novel? Or do you like installments that appear at shorter intervals? Which approach appeals to you more as you follow an ongoing tale?

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The halves put together would still add up to around another 400 pages. And they would have to be read as a continuous story, one after the other. In the future, after the second half were out for a while, I might re-package them as a single volume.

Hmm. Having the next 200 pages of the story out by August/ September? And another 200 pages out early next year? I like that idea. :-)

Hope you’re having a good Tuesday!

“I drew my pistol….”

I haven’t avoided this topic intentionally. Yet I know I haven’t really mentioned it thus far either. But it’s an issue that invariably crops up, so I thought I might as well address it and be done with it.

At the first hint of a fight, “the French surrender”: How often have we heard variations on that barb?

The most notable recent expression of it was found in the “cheese-eating surrender monkeys” insult. That first appeared in a 1995 episode of The Simpsons: In a typically obnoxious comment, Willie, Springfield Elementary’s Scottish janitor, proclaims to a class of French language students, “Bonjoooouuur, ya cheese-eatin’ surrender monkeys!” It was then resurrected and appropriated by a U.S. political polemicist for a silly 1999 article. A few years after that, he recycled it over France’s adamant refusal to join in (and diplomatic attempts even to prevent) the 2003 assault on Saddam Hussein’s Iraq. Others took it up as well.

Overlooked amidst the childish name-calling, was that from 2001 French troops were fighting Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan alongside U.S. and British forces. And of course the “surrender” potshot did not begin with bitterness over France’s opposition to invading Iraq, or a throwaway line in The Simpsons: those were merely newer manifestations of it. In the novel – which takes place in 1994-1995 – I nod to the slur’s likely long familiarity to most readers:

[Isabelle] slumped. “You win. I am too weak. I surrender.”

James could not resist a dig. “Well, that’s very French!”

She stuck her tongue out at him.

As he finished tucking the bed sheet under the mattress, James wrote off her assertion. “You? Too weak? Huh. Yeh, right!”

With the centenary of the First World War almost upon us, visiting Verdun’s battlefield and cemetery should educate just about anyone. (I write “just about” because some individuals always prove beyond reach.) The almost incomprehensible scale of the carnage of that 1916 horror is so overwhelming you’ll almost surely find yourself with tears running down your face. It is also hardly surprising that any people who had lost hundreds of thousands in a battle like that never would be gung-ho to see such butchery repeated.

My most vivid recollection – and I am hardly alone – will always be the “Bayonet Trench.” All that is visible are a group of bayonets sticking up out of the earth at regular intervals. An entire company had been deployed there, leaning their rifles on the parapet, and had evidently been buried and killed where they had stood when a bombardment collapsed their trench on top of them. (It has also been argued that bayonets were attached to the rifles afterward by survivors, to mark the spot. The exact truth will probably never be known. Regardless, the company had been entombed in the trench all the same.)

France endured far fewer military losses in 1939-1945’s Second World War. The “surrender” insult seems rooted in the French army having been defeated by the Germans in the spring of 1940. In that 1999 “surrender monkeys” article’s “Top Ten Reasons to Hate the French,” the author makes that abundantly clear by topping his personal list with this (although he also seemed to think he could claim he had had his tongue planted firmly in his cheek):

“They surrendered Paris to the Germans without firing a shot.”

They did? What one learns. Apparently the Germans suffered some 27,000 killed, 111,000 wounded, and 18,000 missing (and most of those “missing” turned out to be dead) …. as the French “surrendered” Paris “without firing a shot.”

What actually happened in early June 1940 was the French government withdrew from Paris after it realized it could no longer be held. In doing so, the government also announced loudly that it would not be defended – to try to spare it and its inhabitants the same fate as Warsaw the previous September and Rotterdam on May 14. But then again, why should readers expect a “journalist” to grasp history much beyond what he picks up from watching The Simpsons anyway?

In Strange Defeat, French actual historian Marc Bloch reflects on why France had been so unexpectedly and shockingly overwhelmed. In the short book, written in 1940, he argues persuasively that it was the country’s political and military establishment that had been defeated, not the ordinary French soldier. The lengthy German casualty list that resulted from just six weeks of combat might well be said to support that contention.

Yes, the Germans had prevailed. But their high command had been exceedingly nervous, and fearful of a reverse, until almost the very end of the campaign. The German victory was not the spring driving holiday across the pleasant French countryside that some today seem determined to think it was.

French jets overfly a Bastille Day parade. [Photo by me, 1995.]

French jets overfly a Bastille Day parade. [Photo by me, 1995.]

My Passports is a novel, not an academic treatise. Still, I put varying memories shared with me into my characters’ mouths. One example:

“Near Dunkirk, Belgians we were with wished to surrender,” Marcel recalled. “We feared they would tell the Germans our position. One punched my commander. I drew my pistol, punched another and we locked them in a basement.”

I simply couldn’t omit the likes of that. The complexities of France ever-challenges the historian. Even in a novel that focuses mostly on individuals’ lives and personal experiences, weaving in its complexities subtly and realistically into the storyline is similarly challenging.

Another comparison. Marc Bloch would join the Resistance in 1942. Ultimately he would be arrested and shot by the Gestapo in June 1944 – shortly after the Allies had landed in Normandy. Strange Defeat was published posthumously.

Half a century or so later, U.S. “journalists” would write of “cheese-eating surrender monkeys.” Ensconced in front of their PCs, the biggest danger to their life and limb was usually the risk of paper cuts when re-filling the printer. Or perhaps spilling hot coffee into their laps.

“Which would be your second choice? France.”

Hope you had a good weekend. We’re still recovering from Ireland. Helping is that the London weather today is beautiful: sunny, 24C/ 75F. Fantastic.

I mentioned the other day that I had thought a “park scene” would work for what I needed in one chapter. Given that in the first book I had also alluded several times to James’s interest in Thomas Jefferson, in the sequel I’m thinking I will expand on that somewhat. Therefore what better to drop in than, say, a famous Jefferson quote about France?

Perfect, right? Uh, except there’s just one little problem: the Thomas Jefferson Foundation (which maintains his Monticello estate) warns us that “famous quote” is not one:

Although the saying, “Every man has two countries – his own and France” has been attributed to Jefferson many times, this exact wording has never been found in his writings.

So based on an experience of mine that I attribute here to James, in this scene I thought I’d use the exact quote. Click to expand:

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And of course I was going to end that “sneak peek” in a “cliffhanger!” Did you really think I wouldn’t? ;-)

You may know already I’m a bit partial to Jefferson. It is easy to find the Sage of Monticello cited on “social media.” Yet thanks also to that same “social media” Jefferson has become increasingly misquoted; and some of the whoppers are incredible. In fact it has gotten so out of hand, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation’s web site has an entire section devoted to revealing “spurious” Jefferson quotations:

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The freedom novels allow us, eh? We may get it wrong – either deliberately or accidentally – as well as get it right!

Other “sneak peeks” here.

Views vs Likes

I’ve recently stumbled on advice from a blogging “guru” who asserts bloggers are best served by placing their sidebar to the left side. I think his sidebar also says he’s 20 years old. So clearly he must know what he’s talking about!

Fine. I’ve now moved mine from the right side to left. Okay, impress me. ;-)

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While making that shift, I had a fiddle with the “Top Posts and Pages” listing. Doing so, I noticed that in altering it from “page views” to “likes,” only a couple of posts manage to make both groupings.

Very interesting. By far, my most “visited” post is, uh, on the Fifty Shades Of Grey film. However, it was also not “liked” nearly enough to make it to the top list based on “likes.”

That’s it: Get the rope. ;-) Many of you clearly do “read” stuff, but you also don’t always “like” it. Then again, of course I know you aren’t always going to “like” everything you “read.” :-)

Manuscript “Sneak Peeks”

As you see on the top line of the blog (above the title and the header photo), I’ve added a “sneak peeks” page. On it – hardly surprisingly, I’m sure – I’ll place all “sneak peeks” into the sequel. It makes sense that they all be in one place.

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For starters, I’ve put up the two posted previously. I’ve also added a brand new one: in the sequel, we will meet a certain Lisa.

More will follow from time to time. Enjoy! And happy Wednesday! :-)

The Writer’s Dilemma

An English friend has written a book. He was, he said, partly inspired by what I have done. It is also VERY different from my “relationships/ travel/ students/ expats” novel(s).

My wife has read the whole of his (still very rough) draft. It is a military/ adventure tale – American WWII pilots, Nazi scientists, flashes forwards and backwards to and from Northern Ireland and 1990s Boston. It’s dense, detailed, and well-researched stuff.

Yet I’m beginning now seriously to commiserate with my novelist uncle’s decrying that he just has no time to read others’ works. Eventually, I will read my friend’s manuscript completely. But I keep having to put it aside (sometimes for days), so I then forget what was going on and then I have to reread much that I had already read in order to get back into it fully. Wash, rinse, repeat.

There is so much out there I would like to read (including works by you I follow and who follow me on here). But I’m finding if I spend too much time reading what others write, I don’t get as much of my own writing done. It’s a dilemma.

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As books on Amazon do, my Passports novel has a sample available. I’ve so far posted on here two “sneak peeks” into bits from the coming sequel. (There will be more.) I tend to obsess on style, sentence form and words: “Oh, that comma doesn’t go there!” or “That word’s not right!” I aim for short, punchy paragraphs, with choppy, realistic conversation, and background description that does not distract from the story flow.

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I want readers to find themselves immersed in the lives of the characters (and perhaps make friends with them, and maybe even fall for one of them). My regular day often includes a blog post here, while I also try to maintain my daily goal of 3-5 pages of draft writing. That may not sound like much, but moving from a mess on some pages into crafting quality takes much more time than one might think it does. And with my novels being fictionalized autobiographical / biographical, while writing I’ve actually upset myself at times as I recounted happenings that did more or less once really occur in my life – and which I have now imposed on characters who are themselves versions of real people I know or have known.

So when I’m done writing for the day, I’ve often mentally about had it. I can’t then bring myself to delve into another book. Indeed, even when I’m not actually writing my book, I’m STILL thinking about my manuscript and my characters. I CAN’T STOP thinking about them.

I had always been an avid reader, but in the last 18 months I have become far less of one. I know I have to strike a balance between reading others and writing my own books. I just have not yet quite managed it.

Happy Friday! And have a good (and if in Britain, a good long) weekend. :-)

With Memories, You Always Have Material

The Times of India:

Ruskin Bond, who was conferred the Padma Bhushan on Saturday, is one of the most popular and prolific English writers in India. His literary world, however, is rooted in another time and age. He talks to Shobita Dhar about the small towns and quirky people who inhabit his books….

It is worth reading the entire one page interview. (If you’ve not heard of him, here’s his Wiki.) I thought this next paragraph had to be shared here. It is an observation any author (or aspiring one) should probably bear in mind:

“For a writer the good thing about getting old is that there is so much more to write about, especially for a writer like me who delves into the past. You have so many memories that you never run out of material. When I was 17 or 18 I was left wondering what to write next after my first novel got published.”

You likely have your own view – especially if you are in your late teens or young 20s. Having left that age in the rearview mirror, his comment resonates with me. In writing fiction, we should in many ways write better as we grow older: after all, we know more as our lives progress.

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I noted in a post a couple of months ago that I felt I could not have written Passports two decades ago. It was just too soon. When it comes to producing fiction, we simply cannot overestimate the benefits of actual life experience.

Uh, and speaking of experience, Happy Monday…. if that is the right expression. :-)